It was standing room only again for Chichester Symphony Orchestra’s lunchtime concert. Playing for the first time under their Spanish guest conductor Josep Gil, the orchestra (leader Lis Peskett) delighted the packed audience with two works: Beethoven’s Overture ‘The Creatures of Prometheus’ and the last of Haydn’s 104 symphonies, ‘London’.
A few years ago the orchestra had to give up their regular half-term slot because, apparently, they were attracting too big an audience for the cathedral to manage comfortably. Fortunately the two parties have reconnected and people returned in droves, hundreds of them, armed with two essentials: sandwiches and an enthusiasm for good amateur music-making.
Beethoven’s ‘The Creatures of Prometheus’, first performed in Vienna in 1801, was his only full length ballet and nowadays the overture is the section most frequently heard. Your reviewer found somewhere to stand at the back, arriving just in time to be blown away by the extraordinarily powerful opening chords (extraordinary certainly for 1801 and pretty dramatic over 200 years later especially when played with such enthusiastic vigour). There followed a lovely brief adagio section with sensitive woodwind playing before the strings took up the allegro with suitable energy. Throughout, Josep Gil kept control of sensible tempi while allowing the orchestra to express itself with passages of contrasting dynamics and effective syncopation.
Haydn wrote his ‘London’ symphony only six years before ‘Prometheus’ in 1795. It is in fact one of 12 in his series of ‘London’ symphonies but the only one which has kept the ‘London’ appellation. It too begins with several strong chords (if somewhat more conventional and less dissonant than Beethoven’s) and once again the opening made us sit up (or stand in my case). The opening movement was marked by gentle interplay between flute and oboe, precise horn and trumpet and a sense of vitality across the strings.
When Josep Gil laid down his baton for the second movement to conduct with his hands the orchestra responded as if mesmerised as he coaxed a fine, almost chamber music-like quality from the strings. There was clear attention to dynamics and expressive, sensitive phrasing. I don’t think I have heard the orchestra play better. The final two movements were also impressive as Josep enticed contrasting moods from the orchestra in the minuet and trio, and strong brass and percussion helped take the symphony home with a flourish.
Haydn wrote in his diary after the first performance: “The hall was filled with a packed audience. The whole company was delighted and so was I”. And so was I. If Josep Gil is the guest conductor it is to be hoped that the orchestra can play host to him for a while longer.